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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3403


Senator VIGOR(5.40) —Before lunch I was explaining my two amendments. The first of these amendments removes a taxation deduction that is currently available for expenditure on advertising and other forms of promotion of cigarettes and tobacco products. The amendments will put into effect a portion of the Australian Labor Party platform which was adopted in Hobart earlier this year. It is a matter on which the Australian Democrats have very strong views. Former Senator Chipp actually wanted to go further and place a levy on tobacco advertising to fund anti-cancer campaigns and similar positive, pro-health activities. The section of the Labor Party's platform which deals with health mentions the use of the tobacco tax policy to fund anti-smoking programs. It also says, quite specifically:

Labor will, in co-operation with State, Territory and local governments restrict the promotion, whether by direct or by indirect means, of tobacco products and sponsorships.

Not to allow a rebate for the promotion of harmful substances is a very straightforward restriction. I am proposing the direct implementation of Labor policy. I am quite surprised that the Government is not taking it up. At the moment, tobacco interests say that they spend around $80m each year on these activities. The figure is probably somewhat more than $100m if we take into account the promotions. So we are potentially looking at withdrawing a rebate of between $40m and $50m which can be used for humanitarian or poverty programs and the various things that Labor says it would like to do if it had the money.

If tobacco companies continue to spend such large amounts in their attempts to seduce teenagers more Commonwealth revenue will be spent on preventive health measures and on social welfare programs. I would certainly like to see the Hawke Government apply a bit more restraint with equity on tobacco companies than has been heaped upon the disadvantaged people of this country in this Budget. It is quite ridiculous for the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) to talk about difficult economic decisions when the Government has overlooked so many fair and equitable alternatives. Of course, it is possible that tobacco companies might wind back their promotional activities but this could mean a decrease in the tax. Again, this would mean that fewer youth would be inveigled into smoking. In that case, the direct revenue to the Commonwealth from this measure would fall somewhat, but that would be compensated for by the reduction in expenditure required to deal with smoke-related diseases. I believe that it is a situation from which the Whitlam Government would not have shrunk. As the fourteenth anniversary of the installation of the duumvirate has only just passed, it is worth noting just how this Government has generally failed to take steps to discourage smoking, whereas the Whitlam Government was very active in this field.

The removal of open advertising on radio and television was phased out over three years from September 1973. The Australian Broadcasting Tribunal last year was vindicated by the courts in its ruling that cameras lingering on cigarette hoardings at sporting fixtures represented a contravention of the then Broadcasting and Television Act. This closed a loophole that cigarette companies had exploited over almost 10 years. Their contracts with sporting bodies had clauses reducing payments received if the full advertising exposure did not happen. The former Capital Territory Minister, Kep Enderby, directed his Department in May 1973 not to allow advertising of cigarettes or tobacco in places that came under its control. In fact, the then Minister for Health, Dr Doug Everingham, drew up ordinances requiring health warnings on cigarette packets sold in the Australian Capital Territory and in the Northern Territory. This was due to start on 1 January 1973. He was not prepared to wait until every State came into line. However, what do we have now? The attitude of the present Minister for Health and Minister for Territories over rotating warnings has been one of complete capitulation. This is so even though the tobacco companies have totally deceived the Ministers with special warning-free runs on Qantas Airways Ltd flights which have exposed the fact that their statements to the Ministers about what was practical were direct lies. I believe that such companies should not be taken seriously and that we should not subsidise their activities with taxpayers' money.

In 1974 the then Minister for Science, Mr Morrison, announced that cigarettes would be tested for tar and nicotine levels and that the results should be made public. Recently, the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, announced that carbon monoxide levels would be added to the information that would be made available on packets. However, no steps have been taken to get the precise readings that are required in the United States of America. This has provoked an angry response from Dr Nigel Gray, Director of the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a telex from Dr Gray to the Minister for Health dealing with the way useful information about cigarettes is not getting out.

Leave granted.

The telex read as follows-

November 18, 1986

For the Honourable Dr Neal Blewett

Minister for Health

It is with some regret that I feel compelled to object to the press release put out by your office in relation to the revised voluntary code for tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide labelling on cigarette packets.

You may recall that we objected strenuously to the creation of this voluntary code when it was first announced. We objected for the simple reason that the labelling was imprecise and did not allow customers to find where their cigarettes sit in the tar ranking.

It is astonishing to me that your offices could conclude an agreement of this sort without achieving any of the following:

1. Any discussion with the Australian Cancer Society or the National Heart Foundation, or any discussion with the offices of the State Health Departments-I know this to be true for at least three States.

2. Any knowledge of the recently published research that demonstrates that the present tar labelling is incomprehensible to the average smoker. I quote the article in the medical journal of Australia by Dr. Simon Chapman (MJA, 1986: 145: 376-379) in this context. I emphasise that the results of this research were self-evident.

Labelling of cigarettes seems to be a difficult problem for us. It has taken us some years to get the health warnings we were promised by the combined Ministers way back in history and now we have thrust upon us an extension of a thoroughly unsatisfactory voluntary code without any consultation with the people who know what they talking about.

This is a particular disappointment because, as you know, we have considerable resources and expertise and they are always available to you and your Department for any issue which is of concern to you.

If this telex sounds a bit disgruntled it is because we had hoped that your Health Department would never again do anything like this.

Please let me conclude by paying them a single compliment. It is indeed a good idea to label carbon monoxide levels.

Dr. NIGEL GRAY

Director, Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria

Chairman, Australian Cancer Society,

Smoking Abatement Committee


Senator VIGOR —Dr Everingham said that he was examining ordinances in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory to ban all advertising on smoking. Former Senator Jack Evans introduced a private member's Bill to this effect for the Australian Capital Territory. The Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare in 1977 came to the abolitionist view on cigarette advertising and sought to end tax deductibility for promotional activities. Health specialists have long called for proper preventive action in this area; yet somehow this Government, whose Ministers refer to it as a government of reform, has failed to take any positive action to discourage the promotion of smoking. I hope that Government and Opposition back benchers will get together and request that this be looked at on its merits and send a message to those controlling the legislative agenda in each of their parties that they are missing simple opportunities to make such far-reaching reforms such as the one I am proposing here and the one that we proposed earlier this morning on the excise of tobacco. If the Government back benchers would only assert themselves, there would be no need for destructive decisions such as the resumption of uranium sales to France or the abandonment of the Commonwealth's responsibility for the teaching of English as a second language. I urge the Senate to put an end to the tax rebates for the advertising and promotion of tobacco products and thereby extend some restraint with equity on tobacco companies which are raking in mammoth profits at the expense of the health of this nation.

The second amendment cuts down the cost to people making appeals under the taxation law, which is so complex that even the Treasurer, Mr Keating, finds it difficult to get his return in on time, from $200 to $10. If the ordinary citizen wants to appeal he or she will be put off by the $200. I believe it is the right of every citizen to be able to appeal against taxation decisions. So I commend my second amendment to the Committee.

Amendments negatived.